Born with a birth defect: corruption


Curaçao was born in 10.10.10 with a potentially lethal birth defect: corruption combined with lies and deceit. We know that not all members of the first cabinet passed the constitutionally required screening. We’ve seen numerous calculated attempts to undermine governance systems and institutions that promote accountability and oversight. And, in 2013 the most popular Curaçao politician, Mr. Helmin Wiels, Member of Parliament (MP) and anticorruption activist, was killed.

Unfortunately these events do not come from a Hollywood script. The recent verdict that was upheld by the Supreme Court against Curaçao’s first Prime Minister for among other, bribery, forgery and money laundering confirmed that our young country was on its way to become a mafia state. There’re other cases pending, including the pretrial on 18 December, 2018 against the first Curaçao Minister of Finance related to the murder of Mr. Wiels.

To be fair, we’re not the only ones confronted with corruption. There’s corruption almost everywhere, also in The Netherlands, our Kingdom partner. The MPs in The Hague should know that their paternalistic views on corruption in Curaçao are vulnerable to charges of hypocrisy. And, rightfully so.

Point is however that the wellbeing of our people is not served by finger-pointing. Not all countries are equally afflicted by corruption. Curaçao with a population of 150,000 and a fragile economy will always be harder hit by corruption than The Netherlands, the 18th largest economy of the world (World Bank, 2014).

The question we should ask ourselves is why the Prime Minister of Iceland resigned when he was merely mentioned in the Panama Papers, while our politicians, MPs and other high ranking officials remain in their functions despite overwhelming evidence of irregularities? Why do politicians in New Zealand, Costa Rica, and Estonia voluntarily resign over allegations of wrongdoings? Why do the privileged in some countries go to exotic islands to hide their money while here some openly flaunt lavish houses, cars, and life style worth far more than their declared earnings?

Corruption can be controlled according to many experts by good governance, a free press, independence of the judiciary, less red tape, and a transparent tax system. But what should we do when the same government that’s in charge of creating the  abovementioned conditions routinely distributes public goods and resources based on favoritism and keeps a system in place which allows ruling elites to flourish pretty much unhindered?

The main obstacle to corruption remains the capacity of a country’s own citizens to hold the government accountable. It’s scary to hear people defend corrupt politicians by accusing judges, The Netherlands and white people (the convicted ex-Prime Minister was defended by a white Dutch lawyer). This is why public opinion forced the resignation of the Icelandic prime minister, while the Nicaraguan President, Daniel Ortega Saavedra, and the Cameroonian President, Paul Biya, remain in power despite overwhelming evidence of all kind of wrongdoings. 

As we approach the International Anti-Corruption Day (9 December, 2018) it’s important to once again realize that corruption distorts the electoral processes, perverts the rule of law, stuns economic development and creates poverty. Most important, let’s realize that we are not powerless bystanders in the fight against corruption. We must use our power of the vote wisely and not vote for parties and candidates who are corrupt. Stop defending the unjustifiable. Through the efforts of our own citizens we can make them change.

Willemstad, Curaçao

Candra gave us pure and true love


I remember how excited my wife and I were when we drove to pick her up almost 15 years ago. I named her Candra, which means “moon” in Sanskrit. She was a Shih Tzu, a breed of Tibetan origin and loyal companion of the Lord Buddha. As the story goes, one day, several robbers came upon the Buddha with the intent of robbing him. The Shih Tzu changed into a ferocious lion and ran off the robbers and afterward turned back into a dog, which the Buddha picked up and kissed. The white spot on the heads of many Shih Tzus supposedly marks the place where Buddha kissed his loyal dog.

Candra was cute, always calm and affectionate. Unlike other dogs, she didn’t care much for trips in the car. She was a house dog that loved nothing more than staying home and to follow people from room to room. Her purpose was to be a companion – the best companion she could be. She was the happiest when she was with her family, giving and receiving attention. Yes, she could be very stubborn. She refused to go outside to her potty place when it had rained or the yard was a tad moist after watering the plants and would do it inside. Yet any feeling of angriness quickly dissipated after she looked up at you with those wide-open eyes. Most importantly however, she taught us what true and pure love, friendship and loyalty really is all about. She always knew that she was loved and appreciated.

Candra’s death did not come as a surprise as she was ill for some time. She died yesterday, just three days after I had returned from a two-month trip abroad. I’m grateful that I had the opportunity to cuddle her before she drew her last breath. As we laid her to rest I was reminded by something Will Rogers, a Cherokee Indian, said last century: “If there are no dogs in Heaven, then when I die I want to go where they went.” We will miss you Candra, our little soul. Everyday.

Willemstad, Curaçao

We’ll get back to you when we’re done


One of the assumptions scientists make in order to create theoretical models is to hold some variables constant, a concept known in Latin as ceteris paribus. Whilst this makes sense in laboratories, it’s not the case in the real world. Meaning, we can’t assume others will stand still as we sort things out. Yet, in Curaçao we’ve been telling the world for too long: “we’ll get back to you when we’re done”.

When the world was getting ready in 1994 for the World Trade Organization (WTO) rules-based global trade, we doubled down on inward-looking protection policies. Today we still don’t comply with WTO and have zero trade agreements. When we had a chance in 2006 to become an associate member of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), we told Georgetown we’ll get back to them. When we finally did, we found out that becoming an associate member became more complicated than before.

Since we became a country in 2010, we’ve promised to change the name of our currency. We still use Ang, the currency of the non-existing Netherlands Antilles which makes certain transactions difficult (ex. Ang doesn’t appear in the U.N. bank system). We complain about the Curaçao-St. Maarten monetary union but haven’t decided if we want to terminate it or introduce the much needed macroeconomic coordination mechanisms for it to function.

After 8 years we still don’t find the country option “Curaçao” in many online (payment) systems. We want a referendum, but don’t care that we don’t have a referendum law. We still don’t see the importance of phytosanitary regulation or technical barriers to trade which means that practically anything can be imported into our country whether it’s dangerous or not. Anyone in Curaçao can call himself a veterinary and while the world uses sanctions to punish those who commit atrocious human rights violations, we remain ‘unconvinced’ of the usefulness of amending the Sanctions National Ordinance. I could go on. 

Where does this idea that Curaçao is the center of the universe come from? Probably no one knows. What I do know is that this behavior doesn’t happen overnight; the seeds are sown deep within our institutions, both public and private. What’s also obvious is that this kind of behavior hinders us to take advantage of our society’s huge potential for growth. 

The world moves on. It’s dynamic, not static. Ain’t no one going to wait for us. Now more than ever, we need to reset our development button. We must recognize the urgent need for frank conversations on a new approach and to do things differently.

Istanbul, Turkey

Referendum yes, but not without a referendum law


It’s amazing how some Dutch Members of Parliament (MP) keep busy these days. Some can be found promoting cartoons that insult the Prophet  Muhammad. Others dream up proposals for the introduction of two types of passports and two different categories of Dutch citizens. So I guess it should be no surprise that a MP recently submitted a proposition making it possible for Curaçao to become independent without holding a referendum or a 2/3 majority in Parliament for that matter. This may get the juices flowing among the nationalists in The Netherlands, but changing our constitutional status will only be decided in Willemstad by the people of this island, thank you.

I won’t waste time discussing this meritless proposal. Let’s realize that while it’s correct to demand a referendum before any status change, Curaçao currently doesn’t have a legally defined referendum process. One that’s transparent and able to withstand political manipulation and bullying. We need to change that.

First, constitutional status change is not limited to independence as some want us to believe. It equally applies to becoming part of The Netherlands territory (province model) or an EU ultra-peripheral regions (UPG) or merging with another state such as Venezuela. In my opinion, our constitution should be amended and state that any change of constitutional status must be decided by referendum. 

We need to determine how a referendum may be initiated. Options are: (1) the legislative referendum whereby Parliament refers a measure to the voters for their approval; (2) the popular referendum, a measure that appears on the ballot as a result of a voter petition (conditioned upon a minimum of valid signatures), or (3) both the legislative and the popular referendum.

We need to define the types of referendums. 1. the mandatory referendum i.e. if a proposal passes, the Government or appropriate authority is compelled to implement it: 2. the optional referendum whereby the consequences of the vote may or may not be legally binding or 3. both the mandatory and optional referendum.

It’s very important that the referendum process be in the hands of an independent electorate authority. The future referendum ordinance should also specify per type of referendum: (1) when a referendum is valid, i.e. establish the minimum amount of valid votes; (2) what margins should be upheld for a proposal to pass (simple majority, 2/3 or 3/4 of the votes) and (3) who can cast his/her ballot.

This is by no means a complete blueprint. It’s the beginning of a meaningful conversation. I’ve proposed both a referendum ordinance as an independent electorate authority back in 2012.  Let’s hope politicians will picks this up.

It’s correct to say that a referendum is needed to change our constitutional status. We must be aware however that we need a clear referendum process anchored in our constitution. One that’s transparent, not open to multiple interpretations and certainly not prone to manipulation by politicians and other groups. If that’s not the case, what’s the value of having a referendum?

Istanbul, Turkey

Nos ta rekordá 52 aña morto Dòktor


Moises Frumensio da Costa Gomez (Dòktor) a bai laga nos riba 22 novèmber 1966 miéntras ku e tabata prepará pa bai un sita serka su dentista, 9or di mainta. Su kasá, Lucina da Costa Gomez, ku a sali for di e kamber kaminda e tabata huntu ku Dòktor, a bin despues di algun ratu i hañ’e den un stul morto. E lo mester a sinti su kurpa derepente bira malu i disidí di sinta un ratu. 

E notisia di su fayesementu tabata un sorpresa grandi. Algun dia promé ku e fecha aki Dòktor a regresá kas for di un estadia di 5 siman den hospital St. Elisabeth relashoná ku problemanan ku pulmón. Dòkternan a konsiderá ku Dòktor a rekuperá sufisientemente i ku e por a bai kas i resumí su tareanan. Dòktor a fayesé di problema ku kurason. 

E mainta ei Dòktor tabatin yen di ánimo pa despues di su sita prepará un reunion ku su partido, Partido Nashonal di Pueblo, pa atendé ku un halá di problema di índole polítiko. Algun luna promé PNP a sufri un derota elektoral kontundente. Tambe Dòktor tabata den bataya ku su mes partidarionan ku tabata di opinion ku e no tabata habrí pa ideanan nobo. Anteriormente un grupo di Nashonalista a bandoná PNP i a lanta Union Reformista Antillano (URA). Banda di esaki tabatin no ménos ku tres fakshon diferente entre nan un grupo ku a forma Acción Social Progresista (ASP).

Dòktor a bai laga nos despues ku apenas un luna promé e a kumpli 59 aña. Dòktor, e emasipadó polítiko di mas grandi ku nos a konosé, a laga un fundeshi sólido pa nos sigi konstruí i perfekshoná nos demokrasia. Kisas e mihó lès ku Dòktor a laga atras ta ku outonomia ta floresé dor di prepará nos mes, bon gobernashon, sentido di responsabilidat i koperashon ku otro. Hunga víktima, kulpa tur otro hende, populismo i mal gobernashon ta kontra di bienestar general i final di kuenta ta mina nos outonomia. 

Belgrado, Serbia

Played by GZE, what now?


If you know the history of the American ‘gold rush’ you’ll remember that as many as 300,000 people moved to California from 1848-1855 to try to find gold after someone had found the shiny metal on his land. Many of the gold miners had zero mining background however. Not surprisingly the greatest fortunes were not made by those who were searching for gold, but by those who sold shovels, alcohol and sex to the gold searchers.

In China, the State Owned Enterprises (SOEs) were urged by the Communist Party to go abroad as a prelude to The One Belt One Road initiative (launched in 2013) which aims to connect China to the world via networks of roads, railways, ports and other infrastructural projects. Many of the Chinese firms that went abroad looking for new opportunities had little or no experience, just like the gold seekers. But unlike the gold seekers, the Chinese do bring their own tools and don’t offer much opportunities to locals.

One of those SOEs was Guangdong Zhenrong Energy (GZE). Although it had never built a refinery, GZE managed to convince one of the world’s most repressive dictatorships in Myanmar in April 2016- one day before power was handed over to another government- to build the largest Burmese refinery. GZE, I’ve been told, had been telling Myanmar about the multibillion deal in Curaçao in order to score points with the Burmese. In Curaçao, just days before the elections of September 2016, GZE showed a flashy film about its plans in Myanmar minutes before signing a MoU with the Whiteman Administration. 

Somehow the Curaçao committee in charge of the future of the Curaçao refinery (MDPT) was totally smitten with GZE. I say ‘somehow’ because the MDPT’s dealings with GZE were never transparent as I told the MDPT President in Parliament back in 2015. In the end GZE played us and Myanmar with the same domino tile. Changá (double play) in Papiamentu. Not bad for a group of rookie oil connoisseurs.

It did not stop however with the Whiteman Administration as some actors (including media outlets) would like us to believe. Subsequent Administrations (Koeiman, Pisas and Rhuggenaath) were not only persuaded by GZE, but considered it a celestial solution to our economic malaise. GZE signed MoUs with the most important actors of the local energy sector and convinced unions that thousands of new jobs were imminent. Unchallenged by politicians, GZE during a Parliament meeting professed its love for Curaçao, promised to build hotels, theme parks and yes, bail out a troubled local commercial bank while somehow finding time to build a new refinery.

Conspicuously most of the independent press was silent on this matter. Undoubtedly it had to do with an all expenses paid China trip to show off GZE which many media workers eagerly accepted.

Looking back I’m proud to have been one of the few people who’s gone against the current to voice my deep preoccupations, even after being ‘seriously warned’ by some local (ex)government people who I later on learned were paid GZE’s consultants, to keep quiet. Upon my return after a project in Myanmar I wrote extensively in 2017 on the dealings of GZE in that country and the investigations of the UN into their corporate behavior. In July 2018 I wrote that GZE would disappear from the map. This finally happened last month. Before that, GZE was kicked out of Myanmar. 

No more GZE. The questions surrounding the GZE-Curaçao-MDPT saga have not gone away however. We need answers, accountability, no business as usual. However painful it may be, it’s always better to be up front than leave questions unanswered.

Brașov, Romania

Proklamashon Dia di Outonomia basá riba ignoransia



Un bon amigu di mi gusta mi ekspreshon: “Laga e stòf baha promé ku opiná”. Despues ku Gobièrnu a deklará 10 di òktober Dia di Outonomia ta eksaktamente lokual mi a hasi. Mi a trata di tur manera pa komprondé, pero mi no por yega na otro konklushon ku esnan enbolbí den e desishon aki sea no konosé nos historia òf konsientemente ta burla di dje.

Riba 10-10-10 Kòrsou a bira outónomo den Reino despues ku for di 1951 e tabata outónomo, pero den e bachi di Antia Hulandes (AH). Kòrsou no a haña mas outonomia ku AH. Es mas, riba 10-10-10 Kòrsou a bira ménos outónomo ku AH tabata. Loke nos a hasi riba e fecha ei ta sali for di AH. Mester kòrda ku tabatin sigur tres otro fecha akordá dor di Konseho di Minister pa desmantelá, pero ku no a logra. E fecha 10-10-10 a subi mesa na momentu ku un konsehero di Gobièrnu a kombensé algun minister ku e fecha ta “zona bon”. Mi sa pasombra mi ta tei den e reunion en kuestion.

E proklamashon deskabeyá aki ta ignorá e kuantioso akshonnan di nos antepasadonan den e lucha pa outonomia. Outonomia no tabata un pakete ku a surgi riba un dia i sigur no riba 10-10-10. Bo tin e promé Parlamento ku a keda instalá den aprel 1938. Interim Regeling, nòmber di nos Konstitushon na e momentu ei, a sòru pa outonomia interno na febrüari 1951. Despues di esaki e a keda refiná i Statüt a keda firmá na desèmber 1954. Na 1948 un lei nobo a proklamá ku tur hòmber i muhé por a vota. I asina tin hopi mas momentu den nos historia ku a kontribuí na outonomia inkluso loke Staten na 1946 a yama “e promé paso pa gobernashon propio”, esta nombramentu di un representante di nos pais na Ulanda.

Yama 10-10 Dia di Outonomia ta un falsifikashon di historia i un sla den kara di esnan ku a lucha pa mas ku 150 aña pa loke nos tin awe. Ban spera ku Gobièrnu ta rektifiká e vupá bergonsoso aki. Bo ke selebrá 10-10 na 2019? Yamé Dia di Desmantelashon di Antia Ulandes.

Bucharest, Romania